The issues surrounding Ireland’s low PhD stipends

By Megan Frances Bell. 

PhD candidates in Ireland are receiving lower stipends than most other European countries, creating inequalities in the current cost of living crisis. 

The average PhD stipend in Ireland is €18,500. According to the PhD’s Collective Action Union (PCAU), which was set up on July 8th of this year, this figure is below both “minimum and living wage”. 

This action comes in the wake of the announcement of the Innovate for Ireland scheme by the Government in July of this year. The press release published by the Department of Further and Higher Education, outlines that this scheme seeks to attract 400 PhD candidates to “research climate change and adaption; global health and pandemics; water poverty; digital society; and cyber security”. 

This scheme will be open to Irish and international researchers with a stipend of €28,000 on offer; almost €10,000 more than the stipend offered to and received by most other PhD candidates in the country. 

As of October 2022, over 900 researchers and supporters have signed an open letter from PCAU regarding “the new government valuation on PhD-level research as seen in their most recent PhD funding initiative”. The open letter calls for all stipends for PhD candidates in Ireland to be increased to €28,000 to address current inflation and the cost of living crisis. The open letter also requests a meeting between PCAU’s Acting President, Jeffery (Siothrun) Sardina and the Irish PhD funding agencies. 

“The Central Statistics Office (CSO) reported an approximate 9.1% inflation of prices1 in the last year, which means that the current (average) stipend of €18.5k has the same purchasing power as a €17k stipend pre-inflation, when current first-year PhD researchers accepted their roles”.

Open letter from the PhD’s Collective Action Union regarding PhD compensation.

The 2023 budget included an increase of €500 in stipends for all PhDs funded through the Science Foundation Ireland and the Irish Research Council. This does not include researchers who are funded by external agencies or by universities who decide their own stipends. 

Statistics from the department of Higher Education state that there are on average 9,350 PhD researchers in the country. According to the department this once off payment will benefit approximately 3,500 researchers, overall only 37.43% of all PhD candidates in the country. spoke with Waqar Ahmed regarding this new programme. Ahmed is the Vice President for Postgraduate Affairs at the Union of Students in Ireland (USI); Ahmed is also a PhD researcher in Dublin City University. 

Currently, there are no regulations in place regarding PhD stipends and support. “Even though the Irish University Association (IUA) has pay scales for researchers and academic staff, PhDs don’t have pay scales or standards,” Ahmed said. 

There are 13 EU states that consider PhD candidates as professionals. They often receive salaries over three times higher than what Irish candidates receive. 

“On a €6000 annual salary, how is a full-time PhD researcher supposed to live?” asked Ahmed. “It is appalling that the average stipend in Ireland is around €13,000. There needs to be a concerted effort on the part of the entire higher education sector if things are going to get better”. 

Not only do candidates in these states receive higher wages they also receive employee benefits, paternity benefits, and union representation. Additionally, Ireland’s low stipends “violate the European Charter of Researchers’ Rights,” according to Ahmed. 

“In the case of non-EEA PhDs, they suffer from a complete lack of support in terms of their healthcare costs, residence permit costs, spouse working rights, housing costs, and naturalization costs”. 

The current economic crisis and rising inflation costs have made this issue more important than it has ever been. The stipends were reduced in 2012 and the USI has been fighting for many years to raise the stipends to a living wage. 

“It is extremely evident that many postgraduates aren’t receiving a fair wage for their teaching duties and that stipends are generally below the minimum wage at present,” said Ahmed. 

USI is currently working on redrafting a new charter for postgraduate researchers’ rights. 

Ahmed concluded: “We will continue pushing the government and institutions to overhaul the support system for postgraduate researchers. There is an excellent opportunity to make the right decision with the recent announcement of a national review of PhD supports that will be conducted. Our demands include employee status, minimum living income, recognition and payment of work, access to suitable work environment and resources, support for teaching and work, appropriate supervision, appeal and grievances procedures, provision of suitable accommodation, non-discrimination, rights for non-EEA researchers, and equality of opportunities”
 – Waqar Ahmed, Vice President for Postgraduate Affairs and the Union of Students in Ireland.

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